Sunday, December 31, 2023

2023 Trips

It was a busy travel year last year with us spending close to five months traveling, mostly on cruises. Below is a map showing where we were and where I took pictures. Click on the picture below to see a live map with links to pictures for each day. 2023 trips included:

Hope you enjoy the pictures!

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Back Home From South Pacific Cruise

Although our 35 day North Atlantic cruise from Boston to Rotterdam and back had seemed like a long trip, this cruise was 51 days long - our longest yet. As always, the cruises can sometimes seem very long and are often tiring when you have stop after stop without an at sea day. But at the end of the cruise they seemed to have gone by very quickly. And of course after a few days at home we were ready to go again

Below is a screenshot of a map showing the places I took pictures during our October and November South Pacific cruise. Click on the picture or the link below it to see the map. Click on any of the pins in the linked map to see where we were and click that link to see the blog for that day.

I hope you enjoy the pictures!


Click this link or the picture above to see the South Pacific Cruise map.


Returning to San Diego

And one last sunrise while pulling into port in San Diego.


Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the San Diego photo album


Monday, November 20, 2023

At Sea

Another beautiful sunrise while at sea.


Although we've been on a lot of cruises, this was the first time we had a tour of the bridge. Since they can only fit a couple dozen or so guests on the bridge at any given time, it was a pretty complicated operation for the ship staff to give the tour to anyone aboard the ship who wanted one.


Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the At Sea photo album.


Saturday, November 18, 2023

At Sea

Some of the most beautiful aspects of being at sea are the sunrises and sunsets. Below was a sunset while at sea on our way back to San Diego.


Holland America, along with other Carnival cruise lines, have a tradition of making towel animals. Near the end of a cruise they will decorate the entire pool area with the towel animals.


Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the At Sea photo album.


Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Nuku Hiva French Polynesia

After a day at sea we reached our last stop, Nuku Hiva. Although Nuku Hiva is a large island, the second largest French Polynesian island, it is lightly populated with less than 3,000 inhabitants. It doesn't seem to have the same coral reef surrounding it as the other islands we'd visited. As a result, there aren't white sand beaches like on the other islands and no places to snorkel near the shore.

The sun rises early here, but luckily I was up to catch this sunrise shot.


Holland America only offered one excursion for this stop, Taipivai Valley Scenic Drive. The tour consisted of private vehicles, each carrying about 4 people, driving in a caravan to various parts of the island. At each stop a single English speaking guide would describe the stop. The driver herself didn't speak English and few people on the island seemed to speak English

Our first stop on the island was at Notre Dame Cathedral.


Our next stop was at the Mouake Viewpoint which provided a beautiful view of Taiohae Bay where our ship was anchored.


Next we stopped at an unnamed viewpoint which gave us a view of Comptroller Bay.


Our next stop was at a cultural center where they had a number of tiki statues.


Although the island isn't surrounded by coral reefs, they had to show us at least one decent looking beach during the tour. I think it might be one of the few white sand beaches on the island.


After the cruise there wasn't a lot to do in town - it wasn't really much of a town. There was a small beach near where the tender docked. But most people were going to the small craft store and restaurant near the tender dock.


After the tour Elizabeth looked in the craft store for a refrigerator magnet while I had a local beer at the cafe next door. The line for the tender back to the ship was very long, in part because due to low tide they were putting only 60 people onboard each tender boat instead of the usual 95. There was some medical emergency onshore, though I'm not sure what it was or how serious it was. On the way to shore the cruise director Kimberly had mentioned that some people had suffered heat exhaustion on a prior stop. Not too surprising considering that the temperature has been in the 80's and 90's with the high humidity making it seem even warmer. When we returned to the ship the Captain himself was waiting for the tender boat asking if anyone aboard our tender had a medical emergency. There was one lady who had seemed to have some problem, maybe fainting, while waiting in line.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Nuku Hiva, French Polynesia photo album.


Monday, November 13, 2023

Fakarava, French Polynesia

Fakarava atoll, our second to last stop, looks on Google Maps like an upside down capital 'L'. It's so remote that it's preserved many rare species of birds, plants and crustaceans. The lagoon is the outline of a square with land on half of the outline and the other half being coral reef, visible as breakers that break just outside the coral reef. There is a large northern entrance to the lagoon and a smaller southern entrance.

We arrived early in the morning, but the sun was already up as we approached the atoll at 5:30 am.


We walked a mile from the tender boat dock to a resort. The resort had a cafe which was open between 11 am and 3 pm. There were some beautiful stone tables with thatched roofs just outside the cafe as well as a small covered area with a number of tables. We sat on the beach outside the resort area until the cafe opened, just wading in the large shallow, thinly populated reef area. Elizabeth had a blast today since she could wander far offshore without the water being above her waist. There weren't a lot of fish or coral though and the water didn't seem really clear. Still, for Elizabeth, it was a lot better than just staying on shore or in a boat while I snorkeled.


The only downside was the one mile walk, which doesn't sound like much but is pretty tiring in the heat and humidity. Thanks to the covered table area we were able to stay there until around 2pm when we returned to the ship.


I'd later seen some Fakarava trips which took you to a resort on Fakarava. It might have been this one, the Havaiki Lodge, and many of the cabins where guests stayed were right on the beach. Certainly it would be a nice place to spend a few days just snorkeling and relaxing. If you do spend some time here, I've heard that you can see a lot more fish by taking one of the tour boats out to the outer reef.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Fakarava, French Polynesia photo album.


Sunday, November 12, 2023

Papeete Tahiti, French Polynesia Day 2

Second day in Papeete we took a Holland America excursion: Ohana Catamaran Escapade. This one was a very large catamaran with maybe 20 or more people aboard. We motored out within the coral lagoon, stopping to gain clearance from the local airport before we passed their runways, then stopping again for snorkeling. We had about 45 minutes of snorkeling on the reef. The visibility wasn't great, though it wasn't bad. The reefs weren't as alive as other reefs we've seen but there were a number of large schools of small fish swimming there.


After the snorkeling they pulled up anchor and headed to the lagoon exit into open water, serving rum punch on the way. Our friends had taken the same excursion yesterday and they had done the snorkeling after a ride just outside the coral lagoon. The downside to that was that they don't serve any alcohol until after snorkeling. So on our excursion we had more time for the rum punch. One of the tour guides, I think her name was Mahana (sunshine in Tahitian) started demonstrating Tahitian dances. I was almost next to her and fearing being "volunteered" decided I had to use the bathroom at that moment. By the time I returned, Elizabeth had been chosen as the "volunteer" but unfortunately I missed her dance. **whew**


We didn't spend too long outside the lagoon before heading back to the ship where we had picked up the excursion. By then it was near noon and getting even hotter. The weather forecast said it was in the high 80's but felt like the high 90's due to the humidity.

It being a Sunday, practically all of the shops were closed. We tried visiting one of the local landmarks, the Catholic Cathedral, but it was also closed.


Given the heat and humidity, as well as the fact that most places were closed again, since it was Sunday, we went back to the Les 3 Brasseurs for another flight of beer. The local craft beer is very good. The people looked a bit more friendly today. Maybe they recognized us from yesterday.


Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Papeete Tahiti, French Polynesia Day 2 photo album


Saturday, November 11, 2023

Papeete Tahiti, French Polynesia

For our first day in Tahiti we booked the Holland America excursion - Tahiti's Natural Treasures which was a drive around the island on what's called the ring road. It ended up being a large tour bus with 30 to 40 people unlike the tour we'd had the previous day in Huahine with groups of 8 people. The large group size and single tour guide made it much less enjoyable.

Our first stop on this tour was at Plage de la Pointe Venus, or Beach of Point Venus. The Point Venus name comes from the fact that it was here that Captain Cook and other astronomers measured the transit of Venus across the sun. The lighthouse shown in the picture below was built later to commemorate the event.


Another stop on the tour was at the Water Gardens Vaipahi where we saw this waterfall pictured below.


The last stop of the tour was at Grottes De Mara'a where we saw a natural grotto, or water cave, that was quite a ways inland. The park also had some nice flowers and other plants.


One of the nicest things about our stop in Papeete was that we were docked instead of being anchored in a nearby harbor. This made it much easier and more convenient to get off and on the ship. Below is a night view of other boats docked at the harbor.


In the afternoon we went to Les 3 Brasseurs and I was able to get a flight of four beers. Locally brewed and very good tasting. But the wait staff didn't smile at all, didn't really speak any English and didn't seem very friendly. Maybe because, although it was a Saturday, it was Remembrance Day, our Veterans Day, and a banker's holiday here in Tahiti. Almost everything was closed and they probably didn't like working on a holiday. It was also very hot in the restaurant which was an outdoor restaurant. The weather web page said it was 84 and felt like 88 because of humidity.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Papeete Tahiti, French Polynesia photo album.


Friday, November 10, 2023

Huahine French Polynesia

Today you could say we had two tours. The one we scheduled through Holland America was the Pearl Farm, Maeva Marae & Vanilla Plantation tour which started at 12:30. But since we had arrived by tender boat a couple of hours early, we decided to hire a driver to take us around the smaller southern island, Huahine Ito. I guessed (correctly) that our 12:30 tour would focus on the larger northern island, Huahine Nui.

On our arrival into port, the view of where our tender would land showed just how sparsely populated the island is. With a population of just a bit over 6,000 people, it's a very small community. But it really is a community, where everyone seems to know each other and they look after each other.


For our 1.5 hour southern island drive we hired a driver to take us around the island, since we had spare time before the 12:30 tour. Our driver barely spoke English so we had to use Google maps to see stops that might be of interest and then ask the driver to stop there. We had to be careful though because sometimes she thought we wanted to visit a place when we were just trying to figure out if it was worth spending time at. As a result, our first two stops were a small grocery store, without anything of interest to us, and a Vanilla farm which we didn't really want to visit since we'd seen one already and would be visiting one later that day. After that we were a bit more careful and ended up stopping at some scenic stops in Huahine Ito. It would have been nice to have even more time to visit, maybe even try snorkeling and/or boating in some of the coral reef areas.


Our first picture stop, the third stop of our first "tour", was at a craft shop with beautiful te mau pāreu, wraparound skirts with beautiful patterns worn on many South Pacific islands. I wanted to stop mainly for a view from the nearby beach, but Elizabeth had been wanting to buy a pāreu and ended up buying a handcrafted one from the shop.

Our second stop was at Anini Mara'e. There are a number of maraes on the island, we had a closer look at one on our second tour, "...maraes are a sacred rectangular complex, where multiple types of rites and communal meetings have taken place prior to the arrival of Christianity"[*]. It's said that Anini Mara'e was the site of 14 human sacrifices.


We stopped next at the Tefarerii viewpoint.


Our final stop for the first tour was at a spot overlooking some unique rock formations. Legend is that when some of the male gods defied a female god by visiting the island, she cut off some of their private parts and put them atop the mountain.


Our scheduled Holland America tour, Pearl Farm, Maeva Marae & Vanilla Plantation, turned out to be much more interesting than I expected, due in large part to our tour guide, whose name I don't remember. What I do remember is that he spoke excellent English and grew up in a house over the water near the pearl farm we visited later that day. In fact, his wife also worked (maybe ran or helped run?) the pearl farm. His father was from the US, growing up in Los Gatos California. Our guide was born in Sonora California and spent many summers in Groveland, a small town I pass through all the time on the way to Yosemite.

Another major point for this tour over others we booked with Holland America is that they divided us into groups of eight people, each with their own transportation and tour guide. This made it much more enjoyable than the big bus tours we often had with 30 or 40 people in a bus with one tour guide.

One of our stops on this second tour was at an area overlooking the cruise ship. It was from the opposite side of the bay from where the tender boats docked.


After a stop at a Pearl Farm, which I unfortunately didn't get any good pictures of, we stopped at Marae Manunu, another pre-European religious site.


We also visited a vanilla farm. Unlike the one we'd seen in Tonga, this one was covered by netting. The tour guide had said this was to protect it from the pounding rain, but I'd read that it also reduced the glare of the sun, giving the vanilla plants more of the shaded light they prefer.


Our final stop of the day was at a location which wasn't officially part of the tour, the Distillerie Huahine Passion. Here they make some delicious liqueurs based on rum with various passion fruits.


Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Huahine, French Polynesia photo album.


Thursday, November 9, 2023

Moorea French Polynesia Day 2

Went on a "Swimming with the Whales and Dolphins" excursion and had a great time! One of the guides used another guest's GoPro to film the whale and calf we saw on the second of two sightings. To see the whales the ship had to stop at least 100 meters from the whale and we then had to swim at least 50 meters, usually much more I think, to see the whale.


Click on the picture above to see the photo album that contains a video of the mother and calf.

In both of our sightings there was a mother and calf. This being the end of the season I think that's primarily who is left at this time of year. Most of the others have already headed to the Antarctic for the southern hemisphere summer. Since we saw the whales from the other side, away from the boat, we must have swam more than 100 meters, maybe more like 150 meters. The second swim had fairly high swells, maybe up to 5 feet making it even more challenging. If I do this again I'll use the fins provided by the tour company which would provide more propulsion. My snorkeling fins are fairly short, which is more convenient for packing. They're also good for being around coral in shallow water so you have less chance of brushing against the coral. But I don't think they provide as much propulsion.

Had heard that some whales go to the Arctic and some go to the Antarctic but never heard what makes a lot of sense: they'll always be in the Arctic or Antarctic in what is the summer season for that hemisphere. Conversely, during the "winter" for that hemisphere, they'll be in the part of the world where it's warmer, that being near the equator, but closest to either the antarctic or arctic, meaning above or below the equator. So in general, according to the tour guide, they do not cross the equator. According to wikipedia though, some whales from the southern hemisphere have been known to cross the equator. That is the exception though.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Moorea, French Polynesia Day 2 photo album. That album contains a video of the mother and calf.


Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Moorea French Polynesia

Our two day stay in Moorea ended up being one of our favorite stops, even though we had to take tender boats to get ashore. At least the trip from the ship to shore via the tender boat was very calm since it was inside the coral reef protecting the island.

When we first landed ashore we were met by local dancers and a small group of vendors with tables selling clothing and knick knacks.


Some friends we'd made aboard the ship had invited us to go along on their private catamaran half day snorkeling trip in the afternoon. Since we still had some time to kill before the snorkeling trip we ended up sharing a taxi ride to a lookout not too far from the port, Belvedere Lookout.


The highlight of the day was, of course, the four of us on a catamaran for the afternoon private tour. It was wonderful to go to some of the great snorkeling spots not too far from the port. Since Moorea is surrounded by a coral reef, you can go quite a distance without going into open water.


I wish I'd been able to take underwater photos. We started the tour with a trip to a coral garden which had lots of fish and anemones. We then went to a popular spot with rays and sharks, both of which do not bother people though they warn you not to try to grab them. You can pet the rays and some of the other ships were feeding them. However it's considered best for wildlife to not feed them, so our boat didn't.

The final stop was a set of tikis which were placed on the bottom of the ocean as an underwater art museum. It's meant to be a tribute to Polynesian ancestors who were forced by missionaries to throw their religious objects into the sea.

Our friends had tried to get us a spot on a sunset cruise on the same catamaran, that they had booked. There weren't any open spots, but we still had a good view of the Moorea sunset from the cruise ship.


Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Moorea, French Polynesia photo album.


Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Raiatea, French Polynesia

Today we reached Raiatea, the first of five stops in French Polynesia. We were welcomed by a beautiful sunrise over the island.


This cruise was originally supposed to stop in Bora Bora. However, Bora Bora instituted rules limiting the size of cruise ships which could dock there. Our ship was slightly larger than the upper limit and so we were unable to stop in Bora Bora.

To reach Utoroa on the island of Raiatea, the Captain had to navigate a passage inside the Tahaa North Reef. Tahaa is an island just north of Raiatea. It was a beautiful passage.


Once we reached Uturoa on the island of Raiatea the ship anchored just off the coast. We then had to take tender boats to reach the shore.


We docked right at the city center, so it was an easy one block walk to get to the indoor shopping area once we were ashored.


We also visited some other local businesses, buying some Belgian and local beers, taro chips and a baguette. They were all very good and, as we'd been told, the baguettes at the french bakeries here were not to be missed.

We'd booked a Holland America tour, Anapa Pearl Farm & Snorkel. One of my favorite aspects of this tour is that it was a "small group" tour with a maximum of 16 people. It was interesting to see how cultured pearls are made. It is quite a process taking longer than you might have realized and requiring patience and precision to insert the tissue graft from a donor mollusk, upon which a pearl sac forms. Elizabeth enjoyed looking at the various pearl sets available there while I was off snorkeling.


We stopped at another vanilla bean plantation on the way back to the ship. It was much different from the one we'd previously seen, being enclosed in some kind of mesh. The mesh provides the shaded light needed by the vanilla plant which is a member of the orchid family.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Raiatea French Polynesia photo album.


Monday, November 6, 2023

At Sea - Galley Tour

Today they gave everyone the opportunity to take a tour through the food preparation areas. It was a pretty interesting experience. I hadn't realized that they have to carefully monitor how long since a food item was prepared. Or that the wait staff have to wash their hands every time they enter the food preparation area. Or that entry is through one side of the galley and exit is the other side. It all makes sense and assures you that health precautions are being taken. Preparing thousands of meals per day and keeping it healthy seems like a pretty big challenge.


Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Galley Tour photo album.


Sunday, November 5, 2023

Rarotonga

We were supposed to be in Rarotonga today, again via tender, but the wind, current and waves weren't cooperating so we had to bypass the island. Took a few pictures of the island as we tried to find a good berth for tendering and then, giving up, took off for the next island, Aitutaki.


Since we were going to be in Rarotonga on a Sunday, there once again weren't any tours offered by the cruise line. Instead we had planned to join some friends we'd met aboard the ship on a tour they had booked independently. That's why we had gotten the New Zealand dollars the day before in order to pay for the tour without using up our dwindling cash. Since we hadn't been able to land on Rarotonga due to the local conditions, we now had some New Zealand dollars and no more stops where we could use them. We ended up using most of them to tip some of the crew. We figured it wouldn't cost them any more to exchange them into the local currency when they went home than it did to convert US dollars.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Rarotonga, Cook Islands photo album.


Saturday, November 4, 2023

Aitutaki Atoll, Cook Islands

Reached Aitutaki today and luckily the sea calmed down enough so we could safely anchor outside the coral reef and take a tender to shore.

Because it was a Saturday there weren't any tours offered by the cruise line. This was something different about the south seas where missionaries did such a good job of converting locals to Chrisitanity that many people don't work on Saturday or Sunday. As a result, we spent the day on our own, stopping first at the ATM for New Zealand dollars for tomorrow's tour. We then stopped at Arutanga CICC Church (CICC = Cook Island Christian Church).


After the church, Elizabeth took us on a mini-death march to the Piraki Lookout, stopping only briefly to catch my breath and remove the burrs from weeds stuck to my Holland America bag and pants.The lookout was primarily to the east away from the ship, though we managed to find a few glimpses of the ship in the other direction on our way back downhill.


Elizabeth made the walk much more interesting by pointing out the taro plants, overripe coconuts, and other plants which I can't remember the names of. Overall it seemed like it should be simple to live off the land, especially supplemented by some of the abundant fish from the ocean. It would be nice if there were some kind of Airbnb that would support you in spending a month or more learning to live off the land on an island like this.

We ended the day at the Pacific Resort. I'd thought of going snorkeling there but the coral area, where snorkeling would be best, was very far from shore so I didn't bother. Instead we found a table with a very scenic view of the beach and coral encased lagoon that surrounds the island. Very nice for viewing but didn't look that good for snorkeling. It was also a bit windy and there were some waves, especially outside the coral area.


The walk back to the ship seemed fairly long as well as hot and humid. We spent 15 to 30 minutes sitting in the tender boat waiting for it to fill up before heading back to the ship - some of the most uncomfortable time of the day in a small cramped, hot, humid boat.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Aitutaki Atoll, Cook Islands photo album.


Friday, November 3, 2023

At Sea

Our fourth day at sea since we left Vava'u, Tonga. Tomorrow we reach Aitutaki Atoll, Cook Islands and, hopefully, use a tender boat to go ashore. The waves are pretty high today and if they continue tomorrow we most likely won't be able to tender ashore in Aitutaki.

I've taken a few pictures and one video to show how rough the seas are today but not sure it really captures it. From the picture you can see how much the motion is causing waves in the midship pool.


Modern cruise ships have stabilizers which do a great job of reducing the effects of rough seas. But stabilizers only help side to side rocking, not the up/down motion of the bow. That's why in the picture above you see waves caused by the bow going up and down with the motion of the waves.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the At Sea photo album.